Julia Child is known for helping American home cooks feel comfortable with complex French recipes. (Here are Julia’s cooking lessons we’re still applying today.) The movie Julie & Julia made her Coq Au Vin and chocolate cream pie famous all over again. One of her favorite desserts however, was a somewhat forgotten French classic: île flottante, also known as the floating island dessert.
What Is a Floating Island Dessert?
This quintessential dessert is made of a cooked meringue served in a thick custard sauce. The meringue is the sweet island floating in an ocean of custard or creme anglaise (English cream).
What Is Served on Top of a Floating Island?
Spun sugar, caramel sauce or sugar art are used as a garnish to add color and a crunchy texture to the dessert. Since it is very sweet, a floating island is often served with fresh berries to provide a tart contrast to the sweetness.
How to Make a Floating Island Dessert
Julia’s dessert was a baked meringue served over a custard sauce. This recipe from Tonya Burkhard of Palm Coast, Florida is a little more approachable and produces similar results by poaching the meringue on the stove top. In France, this variation of the Floating Island Dessert is called œufs à la neige or “eggs in snow.”
- 4 large egg whites
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 large eggs
- 1-1/2 cups sugar, divided
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 6-1/4 cups whole milk, divided
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup store-bought caramel sauce
- 1 cup sliced fresh berries
Step 1: Get the egg whites to room temp
Place your egg whites in a large bowl; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
Step 2: Create the custard
In a large heavy saucepan, whisk egg yolks, eggs, 1 cup sugar and cornstarch until blended. Stir in 4 cups milk. Cook over medium-low heat 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly until mixture is just thick enough to coat a metal spoon. Don’t allow your milk to come to a boil! Immediately remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl.
Place the bowl in an ice-water bath. Stir occasionally as mixture cools off for 5 minutes. Stir in 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla. Gently press plastic wrap onto the surface of custard. Let it chill out in the fridge for about 1 hour.
Step 3: Make the meringue
Editor’s Tip: This is a delicate process. Check out our tips before getting started.
Add cream of tartar to egg whites and beat on medium speed until nice and foamy. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high after each addition until sugar is dissolved. Stir in remaining vanilla. Continue beating until the desired stiff glossy peaks form.
Step 4: Cook the meringue
In a large heavy skillet, bring remaining milk to a very low simmer over medium-low heat. Drop meringue by 1/3 cupfuls into milk; poach meringues 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until firm to the touch. Carefully place cooked meringues on a paper towel to drain. Repeat with remaining meringue, making a total of 12 pretty snowballs. Discard remaining milk.
Step 5: Assemble the dish
Pour custard sauce onto a lovely dessert plate, and top with 2 to 3 meringues. Drizzle your dessert delicately with caramel sauce and garnish with a few fresh berries.
Voilà: You have your floating island dessert! If this recipe inspired you and you’d like to try cooking like Julia for a week, read this personal account for tips.